Court battles and big congressional races set the stage for an intense election year
Oregon won’t elect a governor or U.S. senator this year, but a presidential race, three congressional elections with national importance and court battles that could reshape the Legislature will mean 2024 remains a big election year for Oregonians.
With mere months until the May primary, here’s a look at some of the biggest questions Oregon voters will decide this year.
Will Republican senators be allowed to run for reelection?
Oregon voters frustrated with frequent legislative walkouts passed a constitutional amendment in 2022 to prevent lawmakers with 10 or more unexcused absences from serving another term. Ten Republican senators promptly decided to test the new law when they participated in the longest quorum-denying walkout in state history.
Six of those senators represent districts with elections in 2024. Two — Sens. Bill Hansell of Athena and Lynn Findley of Vale — have decided to retire, while the remaining four are still trying to run for another term. Two ongoing lawsuits, one in federal district court and one in the Oregon Supreme Court, will determine whether Sens. Tim Knopp, R-Bend; Brian Boquist, R-Dallas; Dennis Linthicum, R-Klamath Falls, and Art Robinson, R-Cave Junction, can run for reelection.
Knopp, Linthicum, Findley and Sens. Suzanne Weber of Tillamook and Daniel Bonham of The Dalles filed the state lawsuit, arguing that the law was written poorly and that a plain-text reading means they’d be ineligible to run for the term after their next term. The Oregon Supreme Court heard oral arguments in December and is weighing its decision. Boquist, Linthicum and Sen. Cedric Hayden, R-Fall Creek, are involved in the federal lawsuit, which is based on First Amendment objections. U.S. District Court Judge Ann Aiken dealt them a blow in December by denying a preliminary injunction, a decision the senators are appealing.
A final decision is expected ahead of the March 12 filing deadline. Linthicum and Robinson hedged their bets by recruiting family members — Linthicum’s wife and Robinson’s son — to run in their stead, while Dundee City Councilor and former lawmaker Bruce Starr, a Boquist supporter, filed to run for Boquist’s seat.
A court ruling affirming that the senators are ineligible for reelection would reshape the 30-member Senate and leave voters, mostly in rural Oregon, to choose new representatives even if they would prefer to keep their current senators.
Will Donald Trump appear on Oregon ballots?
Oregon is one front in a multistate effort by the group Free Speech for People to disqualify the former president and current Republican frontrunner from appearing on primary ballots because of his involvement in the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol and attempts to overturn the 2020 election.
The Colorado Supreme Court and Maine’s secretary of state disqualified him from the ballot in their states because of a clause of the 14th Amendment that prohibits anyone who swore an oath to support the Constitution and then engaged in insurrection from holding federal office. Trump is appealing those rulings.
In Oregon, Secretary of State LaVonne Griffin-Valade followed advice from the state Department of Justice and declined a request by the group to bar Trump from the primary ballot, noting that the state’s presidential primary election selects delegates for a national convention rather than actually electing a candidate. A coalition of voters sued over that decision, and the Oregon Supreme Court is accepting written briefs this month.
Will Oregon’s three vulnerable members of Congress keep their seats?
After redistricting in 2021, Oregon ended up with three competitive congressional districts represented by three first-term members of Congress. Democrats Val Hoyle and Andrea Salinas and Republican Lori Chavez-DeRemer are on the defensive this year, with national Democratic and Republican groups planning to spend big in Oregon in efforts to keep or flip the House.
Democrats outnumber Republicans in the 5th Congressional District, which stretches from Bend to the outskirts of Portland, and Chavez-DeRemer won in 2022 by about 7,300 votes in a race that had more than 351,000 cast. Her 2022 Democratic opponent, Terrebonne attorney Jamie McLeod-Skinner, is looking for a rematch. State Rep. Janelle Bynum, D-Clackamas, who beat Chavez-DeRemer twice in legislative races, and Metro Council President Lynn Peterson are also fighting for the chance to face Chavez-DeRemer.
Salinas had a close race against Republican businessman Mike Erickson in the new Salem-based 6th Congressional District, due in part to lower-than-expected voter turnout. Erickson has not yet announced a 2024 campaign, though his attorney said he intends to run again. Former Republican state legislator Denyc Boles is also in the race.
On paper, Hoyle should be the safest of the three new members of Congress after handily winning her election in 2022. But Republicans, including challenger Monique DeSpain, are bullish about their chances of unseating her by tying her to a troubled cannabis company and hammering on her record as commissioner of the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries. She’s one of many Oregon Democrats who accepted and later returned campaign contributions from the owners of the cannabis company La Mota, and she pushed for a nonprofit organization founded by the La Mota co-owner to receive a $550,000 grant for an apprenticeship program. BOLI also lost one racial discrimination lawsuit and settled another with employees who worked for the bureau during her tenure.
Who will replace U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer?
In late October, Blumenauer, a Democrat from Portland, announced his plans to retire after 27 years in Congress. The Portland-based 3rd Congressional District is solidly Democratic, so the next member of Congress is all but certain to be chosen in the May primary.
So far, the race has three main contenders: state Rep. Maxine Dexter, D-Portland; former Multnomah County Commissioner Susheela Jayapal and Gresham City Councilor Eddy Morales. Jayapal and Morales entered the race with high-profile national support — U.S. Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Washington, is backing her sister, while Morales has the endorsement of the progressive darling and former Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams. Dexter, meanwhile, has racked up endorsements from a host of local leaders, including former Govs. John Kitzhaber and Ted Kulongoski.
The three must file their first campaign finance reports by Jan. 15, which will give a clearer picture of the depth of their financial support and how intense the campaign will be.
Will Oregon elect its first female treasurer?
Sen. Elizabeth Steiner certainly hopes so. The Portland Democrat and physician, who has spent the past five years crafting the state’s budget as co-chair of the powerful Joint Ways and Means Committee, is running for treasurer, the only statewide office that hasn’t been held by a woman.
Her main opponent so far is Jeff Gudman, a former Lake Oswego city councilor who was the Republican nominee for the office in both 2016 and 2020. Gudman re-registered as a Democrat and will face Steiner in the May primary. He has yet to update his campaign website, which still boasts an endorsement praising him as an “authentic and principled type of moderate Republican.”
Will voter unease with crime and drugs give Republicans a statewide office?
It’s been eight years since a Republican, former Secretary of State Dennis Richardson, won a statewide election in Oregon. No Republican has won an election for attorney general since 1988.
But with increasing unease around crime, drugs and homelessness and a newly open attorney general election, Republicans are gearing up for a fight. Newberg attorney Will Lathrop raised more than $300,000 last year for his campaign for attorney general and has spent months marshaling support for his run for attorney general. He’ll face a formidable opponent in Democratic House Speaker Dan Rayfield, an attorney from Corvallis who opted to leave the top role in the state House to try to succeed retiring Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum.
Who will take on the unenviable job of restoring trust in the Secretary of State’s office?
Former Secretary of State Shemia Fagan’s stunning fall from grace following revelations she was moonlighting for La Mota hurt public trust in the agency in charge of audits and elections. State elections officials were already struggling to rebuild trust in the wake of baseless claims of election fraud following the 2020 election.
Two high-profile candidates — term-limited state Treasurer Tobias Read and Sen. James Manning – are vying for the Democratic nomination and both have pledged to focus on restoring integrity to the office. So far, the only Republican candidate is Brent Barker, a property broker who finished a distant fourth in last year’s race for labor commissioner.
Julia Shumway has reported on government and politics in Iowa and Nebraska, spent time at the Bend Bulletin and most recently was a legislative reporter for the Arizona Capitol Times in Phoenix, Arizona.